Safe, comfortable and affordable air travel is a common desire of passengers and crews alike. This is why having airlines to compete freely with each other, based on the best product, quality service and price is a welcome and necessary precondition for aviation. But to grow, connect people and create jobs, Europe’s airlines should compete on a level playing field with a common set of rules.
However, this competition is on the point of turning into a ‘race to the bottom’. Airlines are increasingly seeking unfair advantage through market-distorting business practices,such as social dumping and “forum shopping” to benefit from light regulation and favorable taxation in countries that serve them as ‘flag of convenience’. This, in turn, puts pressure on other companies to use similar practices to safeguard their market share.
This situation is exacerbated by ‘booming’ airlines from the Gulf region – such as Emirates, Qatar Airways and Etihad – expanding their capacity on many of the routes previously serviced by European carriers. The problem is that many of these airlines are (partly) state-owned, supported by state aid, benefitting from access to cheap (airport) infrastructure, fuel and capital. In addition, they are not subject to night-curfews at airports (noise restrictions), ticket taxes and environmental charges as their European competitors. This distorts the ‘level playing field’ even further.